Places to go – Martin Mere

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I’ve been away for awhile but I have been working hard believe me!  Well, my Dad has!  He has been helping me to “do up” my backyard.  We’ve nearly finished so I will do a full post about it soon and share photos and advice.  Today I decided to suggest another place to visit – one of my favourites: WWT Martin Mere.

Martin Mere is a wetland nature reserve near Burscough in Lancashire, managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.  I have had a soft spot for this place for a number of years now, because I volunteered with the wardens for a long time through my degree course, so it holds a lot of happy memories for me, regardless of being a great site with a lot to see!  So I was happy when my SO suggested we visited again and thought it was a great reason to get back working on my blog too.

It isn’t free to enter Martin Mere, and if I am honest it’s expensive at nearly £25 for the two of us.  However, if you become a member of the WWT in 30 days they will reimburse your entrance fee which is quite a saving on the overall cost for a year’s membership.

Martin Mere consists of both a “normal” nature reserve with hides and an enclosed area which they call the grounds and is home to nearly 100 species of exotic, rare or endangered birds and mammals, which is where we began our visit.

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As soon as we entered the grounds we were greeted by a gaggle of flamingos, ducks and opportunistic pigeons!  It was really nice walking through the grounds, seeing the huge variety of species and I imagine it would be a great place to take children, particularly if you buy some bird seed.  You’ll be surrounded!  Here are some of my favourite shots…

One of my favourites - Mr. Tufty!

One of my favourites – Mr. Tufty!

Mr. Pink Legs

Mr. Pink Legs

This poor little guy always seemed to miss out on the seed we threw...

This poor little guy always seemed to miss out on the seed we threw…

Shelduck and ducklings

Shelduck and ducklings

Our tribe of cupboard lovers after some food

Our tribe of cupboard lovers after some food

Martin Mere has some impressive wetland mammals on site too.  There’s a joyful family of Short Toe Asian Otters and more reclusive Beavers and they’re both pretty impressive I must say.  Here are some cute pics of the otters just to make you say aww!

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I had heard rumours that Martin Mere is currently home to a Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) which is a rather rare species I have wanted to see for a long time and we set off hunting for it.  Happily it is fenced off by a rope and a sign saying “Bee Orchid” near the impressive Harrier Hide so it didn’t take us long (I’m lying actually we didn’t see it for looking and it took about 15 minutes!).  I can happily tick it off in my Flora guide (is this normal?), it’s a beauty isn’t it!?

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Near the Beaver enclosure, Martin Mere has planted up an “Eco Garden” with herbs, vegetables and flowers, it’s a quieter part of the site but it was great spending some time photographing the bees enjoy the flowers, this blog is called Bee Kinder after all!

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Thanks for reading, Martin Mere is a great place with loads of things to do and see, they frequently hold classes, workshops and talks too.  Visit their website or facebook group to find out more, and pay them a visit if you’re able – it’s a great place!

P.S Have you seen this app? It allows you to submit your bee counts to Friends of the Earth and will provide vital info to those monitoring populations.  It’s a very practical way to contribute and I daresay it will help improve your ID skills to boot!  Download it here, or from Google Play or the AppStore. See you soon

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A flower with a sweet treat!

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This the second post in my “What’s in a bee-friendly flower’s name?” series (punchy title, eh?), where I describe how certain plants beloved of bees got their name, and I’ll tell you a bit about their ecology too. This time it’s honeysuckle, or Lonicera periclymenu. It’s a bit of a beauty isn’t it?

honeysuckle

Honeysuckle and its beautiful, powerful scent has always been reminiscent of hazy sunny days to me, and I remember picking it when I was little.

ECOLOGY – Bees need a variety of plants of different shapes and sizes, not only because they need a varied diet but also because the anatomy of different species of flowers is more suitable for certain bee species, e.g. honeysuckle is good for long tongued species such as the Garden Bumblebee. Moth species also feed from honeysuckle, including this strange beauty, the “Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth”, which you can see in all its glory below:

Not enjoying honeysuckle today but they proper love it... honest! Photo from http://butterfly-conservation.org/

Not enjoying honeysuckle today but they proper love it… honest! Photo from http://butterfly-conservation.org/

The plant itself is a native, climbing plant that prefers a sunny spot. It prefers nutrient rich soil and tends to flower in summer. Its fruit is a shiny red berry. To learn more about planting honeysuckle please visit the RHS website.

NAMES – The Latin name of Honeysuckle – Lonicera – refers to a mostly forgotten natural history buff Adam Lonicer who was around in the 1500’s. Linneus named the flowers after him in 1753, which is a pretty cool honour! According to “100 Flowers and how they got their names” by Diana Wells, children of ye olde times used to open up honeysuckle flowers and drink the sweet, honey like substance inside! This is most likely where the plant gets the name honeysuckle from… worth a try if you ever get hungry whilst out and about?

OTHER USES – Honeysuckle vines were often boiled and eaten like a vegetable in the past, and the flowers were boiled into syrups or placed in puddings. There’s still some recipes to be found featuring honeysuckle, here’s a page containing recipes for honeysuckle cordial, scones and vinaigrette!   Apparently some people wrap honeysuckle around young straight branches in order to eventually make walking sticks with a spiral pattern imprinted.

MYTHS – I’ve found a few myths about honeysuckle actually! OK, so the first one isn’t an English myth but it’s still rather sweet. In Greek mythology, Daphnis and Chloe were lovers, but they could only be together when honeysuckle was blooming as they lived far apart (no I don’t get it either…). However, besotted Daphnis went to the god of love to ask if honeysuckle could be made to flower for longer, so he and his love could enjoy more time together! Thus explaining why honeysuckle blooms continually during times of warm weather. In some countries, bringing the blooms of honeysuckle into the house means there is going to be a wedding within the year, so if there’s any readers desperate for a wedding, get out there with your secateurs! Lastly, In Scotland, honeysuckle vines were hung on barns to prevent cattle from being bewitched (taken from Garden Guides).

Daphnis and Chloe by Jean-Francois Millet 1865 (is that honeysuckle behind them?!)

Daphnis and Chloe by Jean-Francois Millet 1865 (is that honeysuckle behind them?!)

So there you are… more than you ever thought you would know about honeysuckle. Do you have honeysuckle in your garden? If not, it’s certainly worth planting it if you want to create a wildlife friendly garden, and is especially useful if you’ve got a yard, or garden structure, like a pergola to train it up (see this article on the other part of my site about training a bee friendly plant). You can find ways to help bees that suit your circumstances on the other part of the Bee Kinder webpage, simply click the button to the left – “How to Bee Kinder”

Places to go – Inglenook Farm, Rainford

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This sunny weekend saw us make a visit to the beautiful Inglenook Farm in Rainford. I’ve been here a few times now and really enjoy it, and as you’re here reading, I thought it reasonable that you might enjoy it too, and so thought I would recommend it through a post!

Inglenook Farm is a working lavender / chamomile farm, which smells heavenly in summer! At the farm they create essential oils from their produce and sell a range of gorgeous lotions and potions on site in a very nicely presented little shop, where I was surprised but very pleased to find seedballs for sale! So of course I purchased a tin of the bee mix, I’ve got a “distribution location” in mind already, wink wink! I thought they were relatively inexpensive at £3.10 a tin, and they make great gifts.

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On site there’s also an art gallery, food market, girly craft shop and even an African themed gift shop.  There’s also a quaint cafe where you will find delicious home made cakes amongst other home made fayre! There’s some seating at the front of the building and if you’re lucky hens run around the lawn as you enjoy your food! They have farmers and craft markets at the weekend as well as the occasional special exhibitions so it’s worth checking out their website if you’re thinking of visiting.

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Swallows fly around the farm and fields at what seems to be 100 mph – we tried so many times to get a great shot and this was the best I’m afraid but when you see how fast they fly I’ve a feeling you might be impressed with this shot! As well as the lavender and hens there’s also a family of goats on the farm, with two twins born in March – just look at them!

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Even the car park was pretty, with loads of wild flowers, so I thought I’d leave you with a trio of gorgeous flowers to brighten your day! Left to right I have ID’d them as Ramping Fumitory (Fumaria muralis), Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Red Campion (Silene dioica).

Anyway how did you use that beautiful sunny weekend? Any new places to recommend? If so let us all know in the comments, many thanks!

flowers at inglenook

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A few bee friendly weekend activities

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I hope you are enjoying this glorious weather! Have you been out gardening? I have, but my main focus has been trying to save my lupin from the ravages of slugs! Any advice would be gratefully received. So, if you’re looking for a couple of bee friendly activities you could undertake this sunny weekend, you are obviously in the right place!

1. Lend your signature to this campaign: Bayer: Withdraw neonicotinoids from the market. This petition is simply asking Bayer, who are a global chemical company, to stop manufacturing neonicotinoids which have been shown to poison bees. The signature is very near it’s target of 150,000 now, so please go across and sign! This poorly bee thanks you!

2. If you’re hoping to plant some lovely flowers that will appeal to your bees, you might be interested in Higgledy Garden’s Seeds to Sow in May collection, which for less than twenty pounds gives you around twelve species to plant, including the gorgeous Corncockle, which bees adore…

Photo by davesgarden.com

…see! Plus there’s free P&P.

3. Finally I found this great article on Organic Authority which gives ideas for creating beautiful vertical gardens. These ideas are great for people with yards too, as they won’t take up limited floor space! Personally I loved this tree arrangement and am going to work out how to do it with paint rather than rails as I’m not sure where I’d get them from. Is vertical gardening something you would try?

vertical garden

 

Thanks for reading, and get out there and enjoy the sunshine!

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Who’s that bee?

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Until I started on this voyage of discovery one bee looked very much like another… am I right? However, as I’ve started paying more attention I’ve started to notice the subtle differences between the species. I love being able to identify different organisms – mainly because I’m a bit of a geeky show-off. I’d love to get a better handle on bee ID so I thought I’d use my photos and try and identify some of the species I’ve photographed. You can come along for the ride… wild! The first bee I’m going to try and identify is featured below on a photograph I took at Ness Gardens a couple of weeks ago. Remembering where you saw an animal is probably important when you come to identifying it. A trap a lot of people fall into when identifying animals is thinking they’ve found a mega rarity. Whilst it’s not impossible that you have, it’s much more likely you’ve found a reasonably common species, so start your ID efforts there. bee id 1 This individual is enjoying its mega meal of Heather (Calluna vulgaris). I’m about 90% sure this one is a honeybee; to be specific,  the Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera). There’s only one honeybee species in the UK, or so I was told at uni anyway! I can see it’s definitely not a bumblebee as it lacks the thick hair and was smaller.  It has a slim, wasp like shape, but is darker and somewhat plumper with some golden stripes across its abdomen.  What do you think? Am I right? beeid2 This one is a definite bumblebee – its cute and furry for a start (how scientific, right?). According to the Bumblebee Conservation Society, the best way to ID a bumble is to look at the stripes on their thorax and abdomen. The thorax is the section that joins the bee’s head and abdomen together. BCT have a great guide you can download for use when you’re out which will help you identify common species. I’ve downloaded this to help me, so am looking within common species only to identify the bee I captured in this picture. This one could be either Buff Tailed Bumblebee, a Garden Bumblebee or a Heath Bumblebee. I’m going to plump for Garden Bumblebee (Bombus locurum) as the pictures I’ve seen of this bee have the same bright yellow stripes and slightly silvery tail. I may be completely wrong, and if you know more please let me know! I like to learn! The BCT allows you to submit your bee photographs to their online survey, Bee Watch, and they will confirm the ID for you! As well as the Bumblebee Conservation’s webpage, Buzz About Bees also has great information about biology and identifying bees. Do you try and ID bees? Got any tips for me? Next time it’s sunny why not try and do some bee ID of your own? Many people think that there’s just two types of bee species – honeybees and bumblebees – but there are loads more out there (including solitary bees and lots of different types of bumblebee!), all with varying needs. Understanding this diversity and being able to identify the types of bees in your garden will only help you cater better for them!

Bee populations are in trouble – what can you do to help?

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4yearsYou’ve probably heard this rather scary quote before. When I first heard it I felt chills down my spine as we’re getting uncomfortably close to seeing bees off for good. That’s why I started my blog as it seemed like something that I could do.

So why are bees in trouble and what can we do about it?

The three main causes of bee decline are:

  • Loss of habitat and food sources
  • Infestation from mites which pass on diseases
  • Toxicity from certain pesticides.

I’m going to try, over the next few weeks to summarise what I’ve found about each problem faced by bees and what you, and I, can do to help. This links nicely to the other part of my site, (which is still a work in progress – forgive me!) where I’ve categorised bee friendly ideas to help you find ways to help bees that suit your life. Please take a look and give me any feedback or ideas of your own, I’d like as much on there as possible!

As a starting point to my “threats faced by bees” series I am going to explain a bit about loss of food sources. It is thought that as well as habitat loss, bumblebee declines are blamed on the lack of nectar yielding flowers for bees to forage. Not all flowers have value for bees because not all produce nectar and some garden centre plants, which have been bred for certain characteristics, may not be fertile and as such not produce pollen. However, the main reason so many flowering plants have been lost is due to the move in agriculture towards intensive farming of one crop type e.g. the creation of monocultures. If you don’t know what I mean by monoculture then think back, have you seen the bright yellow fields of Oil Seed Rape around at the moment? Farms used to be much more diverse places that were extensively managed, imagine romantic pictures of wildflower meadows! Nowadays only the desired crop is tolerated (to make as much money as possible) and technology and pesticides have helped farmers achieve vast swathes of land dedicated to one crop type. I’m not trying to blame farmers by the way, supermarket culture and the consumer drive towards cheaper and cheaper prices places huge pressure on farmers to produce cheap crops.

We can help bumblebees by favouring produce from extensively managed, organic farms where possible. It also helps to plant a range of bumblebee friendly flowers in your window box/ yard/ garden, especially if you can plant a large amount of one plant together, as bees forage for one type of nectar at a time. My next project is to create a list of bee friendly flowers organised by the month to sow and month of flowering to help you create a year long bee friendly flower display in your garden. I’m pretty sure that a lovely garden full of beautiful flowers will make you feel happy too!

Apart from all they do for us, it would be such a shame to lose bees. They can teach us a lot about life with their constructive, organised lifestyle although simply watching them is mesmerising and relaxing. The problems faced can seem overwhelming but please don’t let that put you off trying – if everybody came together and did one thing to the benefit of bees it may help turn things around and surely it’s worth a try? Obviously there’s loads of people out there trying to help and if you’re one of them, let us know what you’ve been doing in the comments below. What have you learnt and what are your own suggestions?

I created the images in today’s post, as a way to celebrate the quotes contained in them. Bees are such lovely, industrious creatures there’s loads of brilliant quotes to keep my blog going for ages! Ha! So, for today I thought I’d leave you with this lovely quote I found, which is more positive than the first but equally inspiring!

RayBradburyQuoteP.S. If you want more bee information be sure to watch The Wonder of Bees on BBC IPlayer- there’s only 5 days left! I watched the first one and it was great!

 

Spring Ideas

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To use a cliche massively overused at this time of year – spring has sprung in my own little yard, and it’s looking jolly pretty even if I do say so myself!

The primulas have produced large purple globes of tiny florets atop long straight stems, speaking of purple globes the chive has started sprouting it’s own (they look lovely on a plate of goat’s cheese!), the lavender has some new, lush green growth and the mint has come bounding out of the sides of my herb box. In Autumn last year I planted some tulip bulbs, as I was conscious I hadn’t planted much and I’d nearly run out of time for the year… again! I’m not sure of their worth for bees and I’ve never seen a bee land on one yet, but tulips are really pretty too, look I have proof! Only two of them have grown but they are glorious! Here’s the red and yellow star of the show.

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The brightness of the garden and the improved weather has been rather inspiring and I’ve been making plans about what to try next with my yard. I have a nice new bee motel to install, and I’d love to add some more planting space – in my dreams I’d install a raised bed for some veggies. The yard has dirty old paving stones and I’d love to spruce them up a bit – I’m flirting with creating a bleach design on them, although maybe that wouldn’t be the best medium for a supposed wildlife yard? I found this design which looks amazing… I’m confident it’d look equally fabulous in my yard!


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If you’re short on space too, then thinking vertically is a good idea. I’ve seen a few great ideas on Pinterest and it’s always worth checking out the gardening boards for inspiration. Home Stories has a great tutorial detailing how to make a plant pot tower, these look especially effective when planted up with trailing species. If you need further inspiration (surely not!?) here is a picture of a finished version of a plant pot tower I’ve borrowed off Pinterest. Are plant pot towers something you would try in your own garden? Let me know how you’re spending the sunnier weekends in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

plant pot tower

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